Tampa City Council approves Cigar City tasting room beverage permit
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12/16/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Craft beer lovers, rejoice: today the Tampa City Council passed on second reading an ordinance that will permit Cigar City Brewing to keep its tasting room open. The council vote was four to three, and unlike the bill’s first reading, nobody came out in opposition.

Two weeks ago, people both for and against the brewery’s request packed council chambers to voice their opinions on the matter. The hearing lasted for hours. Today, attendance was relatively sparse, and within three minutes, the council voted.

"...approving a special use permit, S-2, for alcoholic beverage sales, small venue, and make it lawful the sale of beverages of containing alcohol more than 1 percent by weight and not more than 14 per cent by weight. Wines, regardless of alcohol content, beer and wine..."

One of the two people to speak during public comment was Mabel Smith, a resident of the nearby residential area. She said Cigar City owner Joey Redner, adopted son of strip club magnate Joe Redner, agreed to tackle a key concern. That was the question of whether the brewery would hire anyone dwelling in the surrounding area, which is largely African-American.

"I met with Mr. Joey and we set up a plan in the future to hire some African-American people, and they will be helping out in the area with events going on in Progress City and Lincoln Gardens."

Still, three of the seven council members voted against the ordinance. These were Gwen Miller, Curtis Stokes, and Tom Scott. During the ordinance’s first reading, they expressed concerns over the impact an alcohol-selling establishment might have on crime and safety in the surrounding area. Today, Council member Scott made it clear he’s still an avid opponent.

"The vote is seconded by Councilman Mulhern, I'm going to be voting 'no' as I consistently have done over the last couple of years, okay?"

After the vote, Joe Redner said the vote was a win for Tampa.

He said his son’s brewery employees and supporters may been successful in conveying the message that the tasting room isn’t your run-of –the-mill bar, but opponents weren’t exactly keeping an open mind.

"I think we were effective in putting that out there. ... I think there were certain people on the City Council that weren't listening. That didn't care, that even made the statement beforehand that they didn't think they could get elected if they voted for Cigar City Brewery. So, I don't think they were listening. I think we were effective in what we said."

The opposition has thirty days to appeal the council’s decision. Joe Redner said he’s confident that if this happens, the law would be on the side of Cigar City.

"The only legal ground there is, is for us to win had we been turned down. All of the proof presented to this City Council has been on our side. Not on the other side."

Cigar City owner Joey Redner said he’s disappointed that he couldn’t convince everyone the tasting room isn’t the average watering hole.

"I am disappointed that we didn't change any minds. I think that we proved that the issues that were being raised of potential crime, excess traffic. I think that we proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that we did not contribute to those issues. And the fact that we weren't able to change any minds makes me think that perhaps there was just some preconceived notions there that no amount of facts would have changed."

He said some of the ordinance’s opponents didn’t respond to the brewery’s attempts to reach out to the surrounding area.

"I think anyone that's actually come to the brewery, again, we never could get the neighborhood association to actually come and speak with us, break bread so to speak, come and see what we're about. We offered to do that, we could never get them to come. Anyone that's actually come and visited us has walked away a supporter."

But whether or not he was able to convert anyone Cigar City owner Joey Redner said his main sentiment today is relief.

"I'm relieved for my employees. I'm relieved that they're going to still have their jobs, that's really important to me. We've grown tremendously and every one that works for us is a member of the family. So I'm relieved that they can go into Christmas and not be worried about not having their jobs."

Previous WMNF coverage of Cigar City Brewing

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